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Legislators scramble to meet budget deadline

Legislators scramble to meet budget deadline


For the Call

Efforts to alleviate the state budget have state legislators scrambling to meet the May 9 constitutional deadline for a fiscal plan.

Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, backed away from House Bill 381, a measure he co-sponsored as a school funding compromise earlier this session.

Although the Republican leadership has been reluctant to propose additional taxes for voter approval, Avery joined other GOP members in co-sponsoring House Bill 381, a "school district tax alternatives'' bill.

The bill would have allowed school districts to adopt, subject to voter approval, a personal income tax, a sales tax, or both for a period of up to three years. The income tax could be a 5 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent surcharge on state personal income tax. The sales tax may be no more than one cent, in one-eighth-cent increments.

But Avery said Saturday he would not support his bill if it comes to a floor vote.

"Many bills are introduced each year to see if there is public support for new and novel ideas,'' Avery told the Call. "How-ever, if the bill does come up for a vote, it shall not have my support."

Meanwhile, the House and Senate appear headed for a budget confrontation over two significant issues — one with re-spect to the form of the budget and the second with regard to taxation.

House leaders opposed targeting specific programs for cuts when the budget was sent to the Senate before spring break.

Instead, the House passed a budget giving a lump sum to each state agency based on its spending in 2001, a year when revenue was comparable to the projected revenue flow for fiscal year 2004.

In addition, Republican leaders are op-posed to increasing taxes to offset an ex-pected revenue shortfall.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, is adopting the more traditional approach and is reviewing each agency program in detail in order to assign a budget figure. And, unlike the House, the Senate appears willing to submit to the voters a proposal to increase taxes, probably sales taxes.

In another matter, House Bill 668, "the transportation accountability bill," has been passed by the House and is under consideration the Senate.

"The Transportation bill will bring more accountability and oversight to the Mis-souri Department of Transportation," said Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville.

The bill creates an office of "Inspector General'' who would be responsible for promoting efficient use of state resources by working to detect waste, fraud and abuse in transportation department programs and operations.

This legislation was supported unanimously by south county area legislators: Avery; Bivins; Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay; Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville; Rep. Patricia "Pat" Yaeger, D-Lemay; and Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton.

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